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About Eston Kohver

Eston Kohver is an officer of the Estonian Internal Security Service.

On 26th of September, after being unlawfully held for over a year, he was released and brought back to Estonia.

He was abducted at gunpoint using force on the morning of the 5th of September 2014 from Estonian territory in the close vicinity of the Estonian-Russian border line. His illegal detention - a clear and grave violation of international law - is finally over. On 26th of September Eston Kohver was released and brought back to Estonia.

Eston Kohver was performing official duties of gathering information on cross-border crime related to smuggling and corruption. After Estonia made the incident public, Russian security authority FSB admitted the abduction, but did not acknowledge doing it on Estonian territory.

Eston Kohver was unlawfully held in prison by Russian FSB in Moscow for almost a year. On 19th of August 2015, the Pskov regional court rendered a judgement of conviction against Eston Kohver and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. There was no fair administration of justice in the proceedings concerning Eston Kohver – Estonian consul was not allowed to be present at the hearings and Mr Kohver was deprived of adequate legal aid.

Mr Kohver's abduction, detention and conviction on groundless charges demonstrates a serious disregard by Russian authorities for the international law. Estonian authorities continue to fully support Eston Kohver and are doing everything possible to free him from Russia.

 

 

Abduction from Estonian territory, illegal imprisonment in Moscow and illegitimate conviction

The evidence of border violation from Russia to Estonia and back has been documented in the joint protocol signed by the Estonian and Russian Border Guards. Estonia has published the protocol and the accompanying video of the joint inspection by Estonian and Russian officials on the 5th of September 2014. Subsequently Russia has adopted the position of not recognizing this document. Currently the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is holding talks with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to solve the incident of the border violation.

Russian authorities officially informed the Estonian Foreign Ministry about the arrest of the Estonian Internal Security Service Officer Eston Kohver on Monday, September 8th 2014 and assigned a public defender to the Estonian officer. Estonia sought the best possible legal protection to Mr Kohver and hired two lawyers, Mark Feigin and Nikolai Polozov.

On 17th of September 2014 it was announced through FSB to the Moscow court and to the new lawyers that Mr Kohver has declined the legal assistance provided by Estonian authorities and continues with the lawyer appointed by Russia.

Given the circumstances, it seems obvious that being unlawfully held in prison by FSB, Eston Kohver is not free his choices. He is permanently cut out from any contact with the free world. Since the abduction Russian authorities allow one meeting in every fourteen days. Estonia will continue to demand unobstructed access for the consul to meet him.

Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) has admitted responsibility for the act, but does not acknowledge committing the act on Estonian territory despite solid evidence that the Estonian security officer was taken from Estonia to Russia at gunpoint by force. Russia has unjustly imprisoned the Estonian in pre-trial jail.

On 19th of August 2015, the Pskov regional court rendered a judgement of conviction against Eston Kohver and sentenced him to 15 years in prison to be served in a hard-labor camp. There was no fair administration of justice in the proceedings concerning Eston Kohver – Estonian consul was not allowed to be present at the hearings and Mr Kohver was deprived of adequate legal aid.

Eston Kohver's abduction, detention and conviction is a clear violation of international law by the Russian Federation. Russian Security Services crossed illegally into Estonian territory and abducted an Estonian citizen.

Estonian authorities are in contact with partners all over the world, including the authorities of the Russian Federation, in order to ensure Eston Kohver’s safe return to Estonia.

 

Diplomatic efforts

Estonia has made repeated calls for Eston Kohver’s immediate release and have taken a number of diplomatic and consular steps, particularly in bilateral contacts with Russia, to achieve this aim.

Estonia has sent a number of diplomatic notes to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

From September 5th 2014, the officials of Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have insisted that the Estonian consul should be allowed to meet with the security officer. Pursuant to the consular agreement concluded between Estonia and Russia, based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Russian authorities are obliged to enable the Estonian consul to meet with the detainee no later than within three days. Estonian consul was enabled a meeting with the unjustly detained security officer no sooner than on the fourth day after unlawful abduction and imprisonment. Estonia sees this as a clear violation of International law.

On 18th of September 2014 Office of the Estonian Prosecutor General submitted to competent authorities of the Russian Federation a request for official information concerning the detention of Eston Kohver and the criminal proceedings with regard to him. Estonian Internal Security Service investigates the case and has commenced criminal proceedings according to subsection 136 (1) (Unlawful deprivation of liberty) and clause 258 (2) 1) (Illegal crossing of state border or temporary border line of Republic of Estonia) of the Penal Code.

Estonian Prosecutors Office is working in close cooperation with European prosecutors through EUROJUST network.

Russian authorities have violated international law by abducting the Estonian officer from Estonian territory, unjustly imprisoned him in Lefortovo jail and holding unlawful accusations against him. Estonian authorities will continue to demand that he would be released and given back to Estonia.
 

International support

Estonia will continue actions for Russia to release Eston Kohver despite complicated circumstances. Estonia highly appreciates the support of friends and allies, and their call for the release of Estonian Internal Security Service officer Eston Kohver.

More than 30 countries have already voiced their support. The release of Eston Kohver has been publically demanded by the officials of The United States of America, Germany, Denmark, Portugal, United Kingdom, Finland, Ireland, Austria, Spain, Turkey, Canada, Latvia, Italy, Lithuania, Georgia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Poland, Netherlands, France, Sweden, Norway, Bulgaria, Japan, Ukraine, Albania, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Montenegro and Moldova. The foreign ministers of Baltic States and Nordic countries have issued a joint statement demanding the immediate release of Eston Kohver at their meeting in Tallinn on 12th September 2014.

After the conviction of Mr Kohver on 19th of August, many countries and institutions once again loudly voiced their concerns over Russia's clear violation of international law and called for Eston Kohver's release. The United States of America, The United Kingdom, Norway, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Georgia, European Union and NATO to name a few. The list is ever growing.

Estonia has expressed deep concern at the European Union, European Council, United Nations and 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva regarding the arrest of Estonian Internal Security Service officer Eston Kohver and the council called for his release.
 

Actions of border guards during the incident

There was a backup security team at the scene who eye-witnessed the incident, but was unable to intervene. They were obstructed by heavy explosions and grenades generating thick smoke. By the time of response Eston Kohver had already been taken by force across the border to the territory of Russia. The activities of Eston Kohver and the backup were conducted according to law and all requirements were met.

Border guards responded to the incident immediately and arrived at the scene in a few minutes. At the scene one could identify traces of a struggle and evidence that someone had come from the Russian Federation and went back there. It was a criminal offence that was carried out extremely fast.

Joint border observation

The official border representative of the Republic of Estonia, Border Guard Colonel of Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, Aimar Köss demanded explanations regarding the incident from the border representative of the Russian Federation. On September 5th at 13.00 a joint observation was conducted at the scene, in the course of which both Estonian and Russian parties confirmed the fact that the border violation had taken place from Russia to Estonia and back to Russia. A relevant legal document concerning the incident was also drawn up and signed by the deputy border representatives of Estonia (1) and Russian Federation (2). Since then border representatives met twice, but the Russian side eventually backed down from the original conclusions and refused to finalize the procedure. The agreement between Estonia and Russia notes, that in such case, the Foreign Ministries of both countries will solve the issue of border violation.

(1) Joint border observation document signed by Estonian and Russian officials (59.51 KB, PDF) (in Estonian)

(2) Joint border observation document signed by Estonian and Russian officials (1.48 MB, PDF) (in Russian)
 

Additional information

Eston Kohver’s duties

Despite FSB`s allegations, Eston Kohver is not a spy. Kohver was carrying his service pistol, cash and recording equipment in his task of investigating cross border crime and smuggling. Eston Kohver is not a spy, but officer of Estonian Internal Security Service. His line of duty is not counter-intelligence, but investigating crimes that possess a threat to national security for example corruption and smuggling of guns and explosives. Eston Kohver has had official meeting with FSB officials in the border control point in relations with his duties concerning smuggling of explosives and firearms, so FSB should know what is Eston Kohver`s field of work.

Location of the incident

The incident occurred in southeastern part of Estonia, about 8 km north of the border crossing at Luhamaa, in a secluded and forested area near the village of Miikse.

Media coverage

1. Official press release from Estonian Internal Security Service (in Estonian). September 5th, 2014. Retrieved November 24th, 2014.
2. Estonia angry at Russia abduction on border. BBC, September 5th, 2014. Retrieved November 24th, 2014.
3. Russia says detained Estonian police officer is a spy. The Guardian, September 7th, 2014. Rerieved November 24th, 2014.
4. Estonia Says Border Secure After Officer's 'Abduction'. The Wall Street Journal, September 6th, 2014. Retrieved November 24th, 2014.
5. Estonia says official seized by Russia was lured into FSB trap. The Guardian, September 8th, 2014. Retrieved November 24th, 2014.
6. Russians open new front after Estonian official is captured in 'cross-border raid'. The Guardian, September 7th, 2014. Retrieved November 24th, 2014.
7. Officials: Estonian Counterintelligence Officer Abducted to Russia at Gunpoint From Estonian Soil. ERR News, September 5th, 2014. Retrieved November 24th, 2014.
8. Доказательства: нарушение границы произошло по направлению из России в Эстонию [Evidence: border was crossed from Russia to Estonia]. Postimees. September 10th, 2014. Retrieved November 24th, 2014.
9. 
The Kremlin’s new show trials. The Economist, August 15th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
10. The statement of Estonian Prime Minister Rõivas on Eston Kohver's verdict. August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
11. Official statement of the Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand on the court verdict. August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
12. Official statement of the High Representative of EU Federica Mogherini on the court verdict. August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
13. Press statement of the United States State Department. August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.

14. Kidnapped security official Eston Kohver sentenced to 15 years in prison. ERR News, August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
15. Russia jails Estonia border guard Kohver for 15 years. BBC, August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
16. Russia gives Estonian security officer 15 years in prison.
 Washington Post, August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
17. Russia jails 'abducted' Estonian security officer. Deutsche Welle, August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
18. Russia jails Estonian police officer allegedly abducted on border. The Guardian, August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 19th, 2015.
19. Russia Sentences Estonian to 15 Years in Disputed Spy Case. The New York Times, August 19th, 2015. Retrieved August 21st, 2015.
20. Putin raises stakes in West by jailing Estonian agent. The Times, August 20th, 2015. Retrieved August 21st, 2015.
21. L’affaire Eston Kohver, jeux d’espions sur la Baltique [The case of Eston Kohver, spy games in the Baltics]. Le Monde, August 26th, 2015. Retrieved August 27th, 2015.

22. Do not forget about Eston Kohver. National Security, September 2nd, 2015. Retrieved September 2nd, 2015.
23. Nordic, Baltic states call on Russia to release Estonian policeman. Reuters, September 3rd, 2015. Retrieved September 3rd, 2015.
24. #FreeEstonKohver. David Lidington (UK's Minister for Europe), September 5th, 2015. Retrieved September 7th, 2015.
25. U.S. Mission to OSCE Statement on Detention of Eston Kohver. Kate Byrnes (Deputy Chief of Mission to the Permanent Council), September 19th, 2015. Retrieved September 21th, 2015.
26. Russia, Estonia exchange 2 prisoners on border bridge. Associated Press, September 26th, 2015. Retrieved September 28th, 2015.

Last updated: 28 September 2015